Recycling is an effort that has evolved since the first curbside program was introduced in the U.S. in University City, Mo. in 1973 – the first Canadian program was in Kitchener, Ont. in 1981.
Canada’s recycling statistics are pretty positive when you look at access to programs and participation, and, according to Yahoo Finance, we are seventh best in the world when it comes to recycling (Sweden being number one, going as far as to use garbage to heat its cities).
According to Statistics Canada, 73 per cent of what we toss away is waste and 27 per cent is recycled.
Recycling in Canada jumped 64 per cent between 2000 and 2004, and overall, 97 per cent of Canadian households take advantage of at least one recycling program. Ninety-nine per cent of Prince Edward Islanders have access to and use a recycling program; tops in Canada; while 90 per cent of Manitobans have access, with 89 per cent taking advantage, which is lowest in Canada.
Alberta established its bottle recycling (return) system in 1972, with residents purchasing around 1.9 billion bottled beverages each year and returning 1.5 billion, which, at $0.10 a unit, means there is $40 million in unreturned containers in the province each year.
Disposing of our waste is no cheap feat. Alberta municipalities spent $181 million to get rid of refuse in 2004, with 34 per cent of that waste coming from residential and 66 per cent non-residential.
A CBS report indicated that in the U.S., vehicle batteries were the most likely items to be recovered once recycled, at 96 per cent, with paper coming in second at 72 per cent. Only 29 per cent of recycled plastic bottles and jars were recovered, and 27.5 per cent of translucent bottles.
It should go without saying that the easier it is for someone to recycle, the more likely they are to do so, which is why curbside programs have become so popular with municipalities.
The Town of Cochrane has a comprehensive recycling program (Roll With It), utilizing curbside pickup for single-family dwellings and recently adopting a plan to bring a similar service to multi-family units as well.
Sharon Howland, the town’s waste and recycling manager, said that in 2014, 1,600 metric tonnes (MT) of recyclables were collected through the town’s Roll With It program, and an additional 1,500 MT were diverted through the Eco Centre.
The average Cochrane household disposed of 473 kilograms of waste and 220 kilograms of recyclables in 2014 through the curbside program.
The town’s Zero Waste Framework aims at 80 per cent waste diversion by the year 2020; the town currently sits at about 43 per cent.
Recycling is not always easy.
Last week, the Eagle ran a story on how Eco Centre Pay-As-You-Throw customers would have to put their waste in clear/semi-transparent bags or it would not be accepted. The reason for this is because the City of Calgary will charge higher fees for garbage that contains recyclable items…so yes, they want to see inside your bag of trash.
Food composting is another initiative several municipalities are starting to require of residents, and it is yet another step people must take in separating their garbage…and at times, not the most desirable of steps.
Howland, however, points out that over 50 per cent of residential waste is compostable food and yard waste, and if the town is to reach its target of 80 per cent waste diversion, it must include organics.
If organic composting is integrated into our curbside program, an average resident looking to dispose of their trash would have their garbage in one bin, paper, plastics and cans in another and food and yard waste in a composting container. They also need to head to the bottle depot to return their beverage cans, glass bottles, milk and juice jugs and the Eco Centre for Styrofoam and a handful of other items.
It’s a lot of effort to recycle. But it’s important work, both for our environment and economy.
Landfill space is at a premium. The City of Calgary charged Cochrane $107/MT of garbage in 2014, while RMW Consulting charged $90/MT for processing our recycled materials in Crossfield.
Recycling reduces landfill use and energy requirements to produce new products. Some recycled materials are certainly recovered at higher rates than others, but as technology continues to innovate, there will hopefully be chances to increase the recyclability of low-recovery items, like plastics and glass.
Or, technology will allow us to simply rocket all our garbage into space.